When Robert Downey Jr. joined the cast of Ally McBeal for its fourth season in 2001, many people saw it as a sign of just how far he had fallen: After his promising film career sputtered out because of his imprisonment over multiple drug charges, TV was the only medium that would take him. Fifteen years later, Downey Jr. is a marquee idol, a Marvel superstar, and the highest-paid actor in history. Now, he can work on virtually any project he wants. So what’s next on his agenda? A TV show.
Variety reports that Downey Jr. is joining HBO for a series written by True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto that will be rooted in the classic show Perry Mason (to which Downey Jr. owns the rights). Around the same time, it was announced that the Jack Ryan franchise, a film series that’s spanned three decades, will be revived for Amazon with Jon Krasinski in the lead role. Together, these two cases offer the latest evidence of the increasingly blurred line between film and television. Fifteen years ago, it was a coup for Ally McBeal to cast Downey Jr., even though he’d just left prison. Now, it’s a coup for the superstar just to work with HBO.
Back in 2001, Downey Jr. was a ratings savior for Ally McBeal, which quickly became a phenomenon upon its launch, before losing viewer interest three years in. As Ally’s new boyfriend Larry, Downey Jr. brought the show an instant charisma boost: He won a Golden Globe and got an Emmy nomination, all the while seemingly acting on autopilot. He relapsed multiple times during his year on the show and was arrested (though not charged) in April 2001 for cocaine use; in response, the series creator David E. Kelley fired him and wrote his character out, having him leave abruptly rather than marry Ally in the season finale, as was originally planned. “I was at my lowest point in terms of addictions,” Downey Jr. later said. “I didn’t give a fuck whether I ever acted again.”